CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE, KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

WHEN ART IS AN OFFENCE

Method 4th Sep, 2020

Tyler, Mumbai’s most notorious street artist, is no stranger to controversy. Known for challenging the system, society, and personal thought, his art is scattered around the city. But his latest project, Walk of Shame took things to another level.

Each week, the artist asked the public to write in and vote for public personalities most responsible for spouting out propaganda. Then, the artist painted the most voted for names on an unnamed Mumbai road. His satirical take on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, however, did not award recipients with coveted stars.

Names selected by the public and painted on Tyler’s Walk of Shame included: Arnab Goswami, Sudhir Chaudhary, Amish Devgan, Kangana Ranaut, and Sambit Patra.

At one point, Tyler exposed how IT cells tried to rig the system by activating trolls to mass vote for Ravish Kumar. Tyler posted a video showing how the majority of votes for Ravish were faceless accounts with no posts at all. Once the illegitimate votes were removed, Amish Devgan was the clear victor.

The Walk of Shame was painted over after numerous complaints made by some of the award recipients and their supporters.

“Only when something has been whitewashed does it mean that the art has been successful in hitting the right people with the message. The quicker it gets pulled down, the harder it has hit the people you were calling out,” Tyler told Mid Day.

This isn’t the first time that Tyler’s work has been covered up. As an art form that breaks not only the rules but also the law, street art is often temporary, and only the lucky have the chance to view it offline. The world renowned Banksy has had so much of his work concealed, destroyed, or vandalized that there is an entire Wikipedia page archiving dates of destruction for his works that are no more.

Having the art covered up because it was created on public property without permission is one thing. But when the artist’s Instagram account, boasting almost 50k followers the last time we checked, was deactivated over the controversy the censorship shit got real.

Banksy, and most other political artists, remain uncensored on Instagram. That’s not to say artists are never censored by the platform. Instagram’s most common artistic censorship is of art that features nudity or sexual innuendos. This contradicts Instagram’s own policy which states that nudity in art or photos of art is permissible. Still, even big names such as Betty Tompkins have found this not to be true.

In April 2019, Tompkins was banned from Instagram for a few days after posting an image of her artwork Fuck Painting #1 (1969) which lives at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. A few months later in October 2019, Instagram invited roughly twenty previously censored artists to a private roundtable discussion after signing an NDA. The results of which are still not yet clear and probably never will be.

Tompkins, who was invited to the event, but did not attend, told ARTNews, “If you’re bringing artists into a room and telling them they can’t talk about a couple of hours they’ve lived through, you’re dreaming. This is our job as artists: to break the rules. That’s what makes it art—it doesn’t conform.”

Tyler’s account was likely banned under Instagram’s policies against bullying, so let’s compare his trajectory to that of a better known bully.

It took years of reporting offensive, violence inciting posts by one specific individual before Instagram decided to deactivate the account. One might hesitate to refer to as an artist, but who most definitely is no stranger to performance, the man in question is none other than Hindustani Bhau. Only after culminating in six weeks of sustained mass reporting, supported by celebrities and famous social media personalities, did Instagram finally take action. Yet, they wasted no time deactivating Tyler.

After recent discoveries by the Wall Street Journal regarding Facebook’s censorship against hate speech, one might already have the answers as to the question: Who is censored and who is not?

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